Did you know beer was illegal in Iceland until 1989? They’ve more than made up for it these days. I was delighted to find Iceland’s Vikings storming the craft beer world, and used these tips to maximize my enjoyment while minimizing the hit to my credit card.
Fact: buying alcohol in Iceland is expensive. It just is. The country maintains a high standard of living and there is no tipping culture, which means consumption taxes are fairly high – even to Canadians. The standard value-added tax is 24%, and is included in prices, and you definitely see it, even if the taxes themselves aren’t broken out on your receipt.
So, bearing in mind the basic rule of travel in Iceland, stop doing the currency conversion and enjoy yourself, be sure to experience Iceland’s fantastic craft beer culture.
Craft beer prices in Iceland
Here’s why you should plan ahead to maximize your beer-spending dollar and króna: the prices vary wildly depending on where you buy your beer. I enjoyed all of the Borg Brugghús styles I tried, and this particularly wonderful Borg Leifur Nr. 32 Nordic Saison provides a good example of pricing structure of craft beer in Iceland.
At a bar in downtown Reykjavík, the Leifur was a staggering 1650kr. Which means I took my sweet time drinking it while sitting on a patio in my dwindling hours in the city. I was delighted to find it when I got to the airport at Pure Food Hall for a far, far more reasonable 440kr. Then again, at one of the airport restaurants, a bottle of a different Borg style was 900kr. Lesson: buy some at the airport to drink at home.
There are even price fluctuations for craft beer among restaurants. A few doors away, the same bottle was 1200kr, which is about CAD$4 difference, when you think about. But don’t think about it. Stop doing the currency conversion and enjoy yourself.
Iceland is one of the rare, glorious countries that have duty-free arrivals. This means when you arrive at Keflavík International Airport, you exit through the gift shop. Except the gift shop is a large duty-free store selling mostly alcohol and is a famous and celebrated part of coming home for Icelanders. Everyone shops there and so should you.
That said, Iceland limits the alcohol that can be brought into the country, just like your home country limits what you bring home. The Duty Free Iceland online store identifies the duty-free allowance units of each product, so you can check out prices and allowances before arriving in the country.
Craft beer bars and beer-to-go in Reykjavik
There are way more craft beer bars in Reykjavík than I had time to enjoy them. I managed to convince my gang to indulge me at Microbar, and we had a grand time in the comfy bar enjoying a quick break from the evening’s activities.
If brand name beer is your speed, there is no shortage in Reykjavik’s many local bars and pubs. Gull (pronounced nothing like it looks) is EVERYWHERE and is a nice, serviceable lager, sold 500 mL at a time, even if it is around CAD$10 a pint. Since we were out on Culture Night and wanted to take in as much of the festive atmosphere as we could, we were able to enjoy our Gulls on the move in to-go cups at no additional charge.
If you bought alcohol on arrival, you already know the prices are better that you’ll find elsewhere in the country, so be sure to check your allowances departures (better prices that you’ll find anywhere in the country). The Duty Free Iceland online store has online shopping for departing passengers, allowing purchases at least one day in advance. I bought beer like they were turning off the taps (as well as pylsur hotdog fixins’, another story for another day).
With Canada’s generous (and much-appreciated) beer allowance, I was able to bring back 22 bottles and cans of Iceland’s finest, and I didn’t even scratch the surface of the delightful craft beers available in Iceland.
I’m pretty happy with my picture of Borg’s Leifur, but, WOW, Borg’s is better:
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